The dominating feature of Jǐngshān – one of the city’s finest parks – is one of central Běijīng’s few hills; a mound that was created from the loess excavated to make the Forbidden City moat. Called Coal Hill by Westerners during Legation days, Jǐngshān also serves as a feng shui shield, protecting the palace from evil spirits – or dust storms – from the north. Clamber to the top for a magnificent panorama of the capital and princely views over the russet roofing of the Forbidden City.
On the eastern side of the park, a locust tree stands in the place where the last of the Ming emperors, Chongzhen, hanged himself as rebels swarmed at the city walls. The rest of the park is one of the best places in Běijīng for people-watching. Arrive early to see (or join in with) elderly folk going about their morning routines of dancing, singing, performing taichi or playing jiànzi, a traditional game of keepie-uppy using an oversized shuttlecock. In April and May, the park bursts into bloom with fabulously colourful peonies and tulips forming the focal point of a very popular flower fair. The park has three gates: the south is directly opposite the Forbidden City's north gate (exit only), the west leads towards Běihǎi Park's east gate, while the east gate has a couple of nice cafes outside it.